The Longest Ride

The Longest Ridethelongestride

by Nicholas Sparks. Grand Central Publishing: New York, 2013

This weekend I blazed through The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks. Sparks is a prolific author of chick lit, having written A Walk to Remember, Safe Haven, a hundred or so others just like them, and probably most famously, The Notebook:

Yeah that Notebook.* I like a good fluffy beach read, but my excuse for picking this one up was that it promised to have Jewish characters. And it does, but unfortunately Sparks doesn’t really explore their Judaism very much. Too bad, because I was actually intrigued by the opening paragraph:

“I sometimes think to myself that I’m the last of my kind. My name is Ira Levinson. I’m a southerner and a Jew, and equally proud to have been called both at one time or another…” What’s this, Sparks? Shades of Augie March? (I am an American, Chicago born…)

Beyond that, there’s hardly anything on the subject. Just two other tantalizing tidbits: first, that news of the Holocaust made Ira’s parents distant from one another:

“Instead of greeting customers at the door as he used to, he would spend his afternoons in the back room, listening to the news on the radio, trying to understand the madness that had caused the deaths of so many innocent people…by contrast, the more he talked, the more my mother concentrated on her sewing, because she couldn’t bear to think about it. For my father, after all, it was an abstract horror; for my mother – who, like Ruth, had lost friends and family – it was deeply personal….”

Ruth, who emigrated to the United States with her parents from Vienna just before the war, is Ira’s wife. Sparks gives us hardly any other details about them or that experience, other than that Ira “was struck by how differently Ruth and her parents reacted to the war. While my mother and father seemed to recede into the past…her parents embraced the future, as though seizing hold of their chance at life. They opted to make the most of their fortunate fates and never lost a sense of gratitude for what they had.”

These quotes aren’t half bad! I just wish there had been more of them. That’s really it. Ok, a few mentions of how Ira and Ruth first dated by walking next to each other on the way home from synagogue. But nothing about that intriguing identity of both southerner and Jew, and who had ever called him a Jew, or whether their religion played into their daily life. Was Sparks simply capitalizing on a sort of Holocaust sentimentality/pity party? If so, yech. The rest of the book is just a basic love story thing, intertwining Ira and Ruth’s story with the story of two younger people, a Wake Forest art nerd and a hot cowboy, and they all are connected at the end (nothing Jewish about the Wake Forest nerd or the cowboy. Well, the nerd’s parents are also immigrants but there’s nothing else about that). There is a major plotline about Ruth and Ira’s art collection, which they amass by Ruth having a knack for picking out artists who are unknown when she finds them but become really famous later. There could have been a lot here, such as if Ruth’s European relatives had artwork stolen by the Nazis, but Sparks makes no reference to that and so I’m not sure if he knew about it or just had vague ideas about there being “something” that connects European Jews and art and just leave it at that. At this point I’ve exhausted all my analytical prowess when it comes to Nicholas Sparks.

* To find this clip I googled “cheesiest scenes from The Notebook”

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